I think I can speak for most of New England (a role I did not seek out, but one that has been thrust upon me) when I say we've had our issues with Mike Tomlin. With the exceptions of John Harbaugh and Tony Dungy, no head coach in the NFL has spent more time bitching about the unfairness of the Patriots devious, underhanded ways than he has. From complaining about the helmet radios picking up the signal of the Pats' broadcast crew and blaming it on the team (the league is in charge of all communication) and being one of the most outspoken Spygate and Deflategate Truthers out there, he's spent most of the last 14 years walking on the fightin' side of us.
But there are moments that are enough to make me feel bad for the guy. Sincerely. Such as this week. Which began for Tomlin like this:
And now once again he's being asked about how one of his most important players is going off the rails and making it all about himself late in a season when his team needs to be focused. Which has seemed to be one of the major parts of his job in Pittsburgh all these years. And has he's had to do so many times before, he's taken the coward's way out. From USA Today:
One of the more controversial issues from the team’s loss to the Buffalo Bills was the comments made by some Bills players after the game that they were fired up to play a little harder because of the pregame TikTok dance Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster did on the Bills logo.
Tomlin told the media this was the first he had heard of this. He also quickly fired back that he didn’t believe NFL players need extra motivation to play hard.
I have to feel for the guy. Honestly. Even as he goes into his default setting of denying he knows anything about the second biggest story of the weekend after Lamar Jackson prairie dogging it all the way to the toilet in the 4th quarter of the biggest game of his season. And the fact that the Bills made it crystal clear that they took Juju's dance as the Tik Tok version of bulletin board fodder. But such is life when you're Tomlin.
He went through this in the 2016 playoffs when Antonio Brown was Facebook Live-ing in the locker room while Tomlin was in the middle of telling his team to watch themselves on social media and calling the Patriots "assholes." He went through it in 2007 as a rookie coach when safety Anthony Smith guaranteed a win at New England and Tom Brady targeted him all night while the end zone crowd tortured him with chants of "Guar-an-TEE! Guar-an-TEE!" after he got beat in the end zone. He continues to go through it with Ben Roethlisberger, who can't stop doing his Western PA Hamlet act, publicly retiring and then unretiring so often that Brett Favre is embarrassed for him.
It's like Tomlin lives in this perpetual state of Not Quite Respected Enoughism. Good enough to stay on the job for 14 years, never finish below .500, have double digit wins most of the time and win a ring. Not good enough to put the Fear of God into his stars that keeps them in check and reminds them it's not all about them. And without that, he's constantly being forced to shrug, face his palms to the ceiling and IDK their latest narcissistic missteps. Sad.
Maybe this will be the last straw for Smith-Schuster in Pittsburgh. As Doug Kyed from NESN points out, his contract is up and the Steelers might just let him walk:
Fortunately for the Patriots, this is a pretty good offseason to need a wide receiver, and New England is set up well to acquire one at a relative bargain. … Here’s who is set to be available:
First-tier (projected annual salary via Spotrac.com)
Allen Robinson: $19.8M
Kenny Golladay: $19M
Chris Godwin: $17.2M
Will Fuller: $16.8M
JuJu Smith-Schuster: $15.5M …
Smith-Schuster, 24, is the most interesting player in this bunch. Since the Steelers already have Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool and James Washington on their roster, there’s no real reason to spend top dollar on Smith-Schuster in free agency. His best season came in 2018 when he caught 111 passes for 1,426 yards with seven touchdowns. He’s significantly better than the second-tier options on this list, but could come at a relative bargain compared to some of the other top-tier pass-catchers.
I wouldn't hate the idea. Especially if the Pats could get a young, talented wideout at old, less talented prices. He could be exactly what the Patriots need. And can very much afford. One thing we know for sure is that if it does happen, his days of pregame Tik Tokking on opponents' logos will be over.